Updated 16 December 2013
On October 10, 2012, City Council voted 21-3 to proceed with the Lansdowne Partnership Plan (LPP) and sign the final contracts with the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group (OSEG). By then, the vote was just a formality. The more vigorous discussion and examination of final reports took place a week earlier at the Finance and Economic Development Committee (FEDCO) meeting. In any case, it has been clear since the 2010 election that this City Council is strongly pro-LPP.
So, one era ends and a new one begins. The struggle to halt or fundamentally change the current redevelopment plan is officially over, to be replaced with a new mission: Identifying ways to leverage this massive capital project—with all the taxpayer spending it entails—for some much-needed community and regional benefits.
This has actually been my focus for a long time, since it became crystal clear that most of my colleagues were lined up in favour of the project, with only a couple even interested in discussing its shortcomings. I have put my energy into questioning and critiquing the plan's weak points at Council meetings, and using my position on the Lansdowne Design Review Panel to push for social, aesthetic and environmental improvements to the site plan and building designs. I also created the Lansdowne Transportation Advisory Committee (LTAC) to identify ways to mitigate the expected traffic and parking challenges, and to find ways to get more visitors to the site by means other than the car.
For anyone interested in my work at committees and Council, I think you'll find the audio files from the Oct. 2 FEDCO meeting revealing.
You can listen to the whole five hours to get a real taste for just how pro-LPP most of my colleagues are, and why my strategy has been to improve rather than try to block the project. More likely though, you'll want to listen to the two rounds of questions I asked and the responses I received. You’ll find these at 1:00:35 and 1:57:15 in Part 1).
If you can only spare five minutes, just listen to my closing remarks prior to the vote (at 01:16:35 in Part 2). I used my allotted time to ask Council to support me in my efforts to ensure that the final product at Lansdowne Park does the most amount of good for adjacent communities in Capital Ward, and causes the least amount of harm.
Notably, I identified LTAC's ongoing work and the type of recommendations we will bring forward over the coming months to deal with traffic, bus service, parking, and infrastructure improvements for walking and cycling. I drew particular attention to the proposed Canal footbridge between Fifth and Clegg, calling on Council to see it as a critical piece of infrastructure that will join not only the east and west sides of Capital Ward, but also the east and west sides of the city. The bridge is a key component in a cross-city route that could make a real difference in encouraging people to choose cycling and walking over driving. Improving the cycling network to and through the Glebe is a priority for the remainder of my term, because I believe it holds enormous positive potential for the city as a whole.
Even if you don't listen to any of the FEDCO meeting, consider these other essential components of the active transportation puzzle that LTAC and I are already discussing with City staff: Safer crossing of the Queen Elizabeth Driveway and Colonel By Drive, safer bicycle passage over Bank and Billings Bridges, an additional signalized pedestrian/cyclist crossing on Bronson Ave., improvements to several east-west and north-south bike routes across the Glebe, using some physical barriers, better signage and road painting, as well as preferential crossing treatments for cyclists and pedestrians at key intersections.
Many people are worried that the Lansdowne redevelopment will greatly decrease available parking for Capital Ward residents and businesses. The LTAC will look into creating on-street parking zones reserved for permit-holding residents, and we will explore time limits in certain areas. Finally, Council will consider building a municipal parking garage in what is currently the parking lot behind the McKeen Metro. This would increase available parking for Bank Street shoppers and benefit local merchants, because the location and time limits could help filter out space-blocking Lansdowne-goers, notably patrons of major events.
As for public transit, our greatest challenge is to make buses a more attractive option by freeing them from being stuck in congestion. If buses are as slow as or slower than cars, shoppers and sports fans will be reluctant to leave their cars at home or in park-and-ride or shuttle-bus lots. Can we do this without creating permanent, fast-moving bus lanes? I believe so—otherwise this is a non-starter. Perhaps we should consider reserving the curbside lanes for buses and high-occupancy vehicles during rush hour only, which would preserve important on-street parking the rest of the time and maintain an acceptable sidewalk atmosphere. Another option is to give buses priority at traffic lights.
These are just some of the ideas that the LTAC will be reviewing along with City staff over the coming months, with the expectation that they will all be considered and many of them implemented by the time Lansdowne reopens (in the summer-fall of 2014), or as soon thereafter as possible.
There is no magic wand we can wave to conjure a silver lining for Lansdowne. But if we can implement many small, positive changes—and throw in a foot/bike bridge across the Canal for good measure—I believe we'll find at least a hint of silver by the time Lansdowne is anticipated to reopen in 2014.
Councillor for Capital Ward